Additive manufacturing, which relies on 3D printing to create components within or outside assembly factories, is attracting admirers across different industries.
According to a 2016 Wohlers Associates report, by 2021 the market for associated products and services will be four times bigger than it was in 2013, at nearly $11 billion. Flexibility, speed, lower logistic costs and the possibility of reducing environmental impact are among the reasons firms are willing to invest. But the technology must overcome a thorny problem before fulfils its promise, explains Minh Le, business developer and member of the scientific community at Atos.
Today, 3D printing is not secure by design. Like many new technologies, people design the product first and then add security later.
The potential for hackers to penetrate additive manufacturing processes creates two threats. Firstly, they could copy and steel product design: intellectual property theft. Secondly, they could alter designs in transit, introducing weakness into the finished product for the purpose of extortion. For Minh Le,
If the data model is compromised you cannot guarantee the quality of the product and you could lose the protection of the IP.
SECURING ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING
Organizations wishing to secure additive manufacturing could simply try to protect these systems by creating an “air gap” between them and the outside world. But that would prevent them from exploiting the advantages of the technology which enables broader trends in industry, such as mass-customization and distributed manufacturing.
Elvira Leon, Atos global technical leader for additive manufacturing, says:
When you do additive manufacturing internally, you can keep the IP and the data model in a secure way guaranteeing all transaction and data flow, as it is inside your company assets. As soon as third parties become involved, it is necessary to provide a security solution. In order to make collaborative networks and a distributed manufacturing business model possible, it is imperative to have a solution. Blockchain can be that solution. We have a proof-of-concept with a blockchain-based platform and it is a success.
Blockchain’s immutable ledger of events can help secure 3D printing. It has allowed Atos to link 3D printers in its labs around the world and demonstrate it can control rights to use designs and authenticate the validity of the design. If changes are made to designs, the system is able to validate these changes before designs are printed. It can also monitor printing in real time, Leon says.
Atos is working on pilots to demonstrate how blockchain can secure additive manufacturing with selected customers in relatively controlled environments which are not fully open to third parties, Leon says. The company hopes to have a commercially available system within two years.
While the hype surrounding blockchain has inspired some cynicism among technology watchers, in additive manufacturing Atos believes it has found an application which demonstrates blockchain’s value.
There has been buzz and hype around blockchain, but the areas we’re looking at have a tangible benefit, which customers are keen to understand.